Reinvent Yourself on a Shoestring

How three women took big career leaps with small budgets.

By Marci Alboher
Photograph: Photo by: iStockphoto

Yet one year into the venture, Polacek and Scheier were feeling the financial squeeze. Looking for part-time gigs to earn some cash, Polacek found one at Vanguard in a program that trains and employs professionals to work with the company’s clients. She loves the five-hour-a-day job, her colleagues — many of them midlife women — and the opportunity to pick up the financial skills she needs for her business. Still, the couple has decided, reluctantly, to borrow a bit against their house.

Product designers are now creating a prototype for Polacek’s as-yet-unnamed device. She hopes to bring it to market later this year. Retire in 2013? She’s having too much fun.

No-Net Takeaway

  1. Look right in your neighborhood for start-up support.
  2. Network everywhere, including the locker room.
  3. Never underestimate the hot-flash sisterhood.

Leaper of Love

Barbara Saunders, 41, San Francisco

Job then: Recruiter for a consulting firm. Salary: $65,000.

Job now: Program coordinator, holistic veterinary clinic; writer. Income: $75,000.

Scariest moment: Taking a transition job in her new field that felt like a step down.

If there’s a holy grail for shoestring reinventors, it’s the part-time job that pays benefits. Saunders landed one in 2005, when her firm began retooling and wanted to hire a lot of people quickly. Knowing there would be no better time to strike a deal, she asked for a three-day schedule that would allow her to keep her benefits. Her boss agreed.

With two days a week free, she went after what she most wanted: time to write and a way to turn her volunteer work with animals into a paid position. Soon she was landing commercial writing jobs that paid well and could be done on a flexible schedule. Also, she had once worked as a personal trainer, and now she found a few clients.

In the meantime, she became a regular presence at the local SPCA office, walking dogs, writing for the SPCA magazine and assisting in treating animals, all the while letting everyone know that she was seeking a staff position.

A year later Saunders left her job at the consulting firm, and shortly after that the position of public information coordinator for the SPCA opened up. Saunders got it. It was a decent transition job, but with less money, prestige, and authority than her old work. Still, it brought her into contact with the wider animal-welfare world. Last September, she heard of a job she liked much better, managing a holistic veterinary program at Pets Unlimited, a nonprofit hospital and shelter. She was hired.

The new position pays $10,000 less than her recruiting job, but she earns $20,000 writing. She’s already mulling over the next stage of her dream: moving to the country, opening an animal sanctuary, and writing more. She’s sure she can make it happen.

No-Net Takeaway

  1. Use timing to your advantage.
  2. It’s okay to take one step back, then two steps forward.
  3. Call on all your skills to produce tide-me-over income.

Marci Alboher writes the "Shifting Careers" column and blog for the New York Times.

Originally published in MORE magazine, June 2008.

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